Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Several people have asked me about the missing family member, Taboo. I did conveniently gloss overy his absence, didn't I?

I knew from the start that all the molds from this group were going to present challenges, but Taboo was going to be the hardest of the three. I've borrowed this promotional photo from Sarah because the angle illustrates the reason. His head is so closely tucked that the shoulder of the raised leg partially obscures his facial profile. Overlapping pieces like this are a real issue in moldmaking because the mold pieces are rigid. They need a clear path for removal or they break the casting during the demolding process.

I learned a lot working with Vixen, but it didn't take long for me to decide that Taboo was probably above my pay grade! So when Joan offered to do the master molds for him, I was more than happy to ship him off to the real expert.

If all goes well, we may have some Taboos to glaze in Idaho. But more importantly, Joan has been looking at some of the issues involved in casting really small, intricate horses. Molding Vixen resulting in some new techniques that are already making creating ceramic horses easier. Having a second (more experienced) set of eyes looking at those problems will probably push the technology even farther, which is really exciting - especially since I don't think Sarah is going to be making her future sculptures any simpler than these guys!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Getting ready for Mayhem

Noah, the miniature mule colt we met at Mayhem last year. He was from one of the few field trips we made that didn't involve food!

Late spring is one of my favorite times of the year, in part because that's when I get to spend a week with some of my fellow ceramic artists. Each year we gather in Idaho for an annual artist retreat what we've come to call "Mayhem". Slipcast earthenware is almost a lost art, so it is a rare chance to share ideas and techniques with others working in the same medium.

(It's also a chance to spend time with some of my favorite women, all bright and funny and really tolerant of my long stories!)

But this year is a little different. One of the reasons our retreat has such a wonderful synergistic quality is that we all have very different areas of knowledge. Because my own area has always centered around horse color and glazing, and not the sculpting and moldmaking, most of my preparation has involved lining up color references. I was focused on the colors going on the bodies, not the actual bisque bodies. This time around, though, I'm bringing some of the bodies. Tradition has had it that we break in some new, untried horses for Mayhem. Last year it was Stormwatch, and the previous year it was Pixie and Dafydd.

This year, it will be the Taboo family. So I have been busy getting bisque Vixens and Imps ready for everyone to glaze. Since I was boxing them for the upcoming trip, I thought I would share how ceramic horses are packed for shipping.

I used to double-box everything I shipped, but in the last few years I have been using the Indestructo Mailers from Uline. They are double-walled and assemble using tabs rather than tape. For mini-scale models, I use a box that is 4" deep. That allows me to use four layers of 1" thick foam for the interior.

I put two layers in the box and then trace the outline of the horse on the third layer. Normally I would never group two horses together in such a small box, and I would leave a lot more space, but these boxes are going to be carried on the plane so space is at a premium. They won't see the same jostling that they would during shipping, so it will be okay.

Here I've cut through that third layer of foam with a #11 Xacto blade. It's important that the silhouette hold the horse in place without binding any of the limbs, ears or tail. I've used resin copies of the two molds as my patterns, which tend to work well since the bisques are just a bit smaller than the original.

Because Imp is so narrow, he has too much up-and-down room in his little pocket. If I shipped him this way he could rattle around enough to put his tiny tail at risk. To hold him a little more secure, I've taken the insert that was cut out and split it in half and set it on top of him so that his pocket is only 1/2" deep. The fourth layer of foam goes on top of this.

Here are three mare and foal sets ready for Mayhem. I've also made a set of the plaster molds for Sarah, in case she feels the urge to do any Vixen or Imp claybodies while we are there.

This is the earliest I've been ready for the trip since we started taking them. Of course, there's something to be said for the motivating power of knowing that no one will have anything to work on if you don't finish. (Or worse yet, knowing that all we will have left to do is eat more often!) I had only intended to make a set for each of the participants, and figured I would glaze my first set either before the trip or soon after, but now I'm wondering if I can fit one more box in my carry-on luggage. It might be fun to see four sets done by different artists, all together as a group.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Studio addition

This is the view from my new 'remote' studio. Isn't it lovely?

Okay, so it's not really extra studio space, and it's not really mine. Alan and Matthew (my youngest son) spent Spring Break building a treehouse in one of the sweetgum trees along the creek that borders our property.

Here they are in the early stages, where Alan claimed he was teaching Matthew about physics. (Although there are joists, the platform is mostly held up with a tightened cable that runs through the underside.) Personally I think he just wanted to see how high my tolerance for kids and risk was. (As the safety harness and belay line on Matthew shows, it's not real high.)

The cable that supposedly insures that we don't all plummet to our deaths.

It's not quite finished yet. There are wooden lattice panels that go on each of the sides. And thankfully the much-anticipated zip line has not yet been installed. (I keep hoping everyone will forget that this was part of the original plan, and just use the ladder.)

But I have to say that as much as I dreaded the idea of letting my kids play 15 ft. in the air, it's a great spot. Because that area has been left fallow all these years, it's a wonderfully natural spot tucked back amid all the development. Sitting up there, all you hear are the birds and the bubble of the creek. It's the perfect setting for cleaning greenware. I do that outside anyway because it cuts down on dust in the studio. All I need is a dumbwaiter to hoist the horses and tools up to the top. (It's in the works, though it was originally intended to lift apple juice and cookies...)

It's not going to solve the increasing problem I have with too little studio space, but it sure will make greenware prep a lot more pleasant. And I still have hopes that the guys will one day give up the building of trebuchets and treehouses and turn their attention to making a detached shop for me!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Carterhaugh lottery is up now

His pages are all set up on the website now. There's also a link on that first page with more information on how this particular lottery will work. (There is information on how lotteries work in general on the "Sales" page.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009


This is the new lottery guy "Carterhaugh" in his final, glossy form.

(I especially liked how this picture showed off his varigated mane roots.)

I'll be posting his lottery to the website with more information - and pictures! - after the Easter weekend.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Well how cool is that?

Today I got an unexpected box from Reeves International. I've occasionally done work for Breyer before painting prototypes, and I used to do seminars on horse color for them at BreyerFest. I have made some good friends there over the years, but I haven't done much in recent years (no time!). I was completely stumped about what they might send.

It turned out to be a copy of the Special Edition "Fire" from the Ethereal Collection. I had painted the prototype years ago, and hadn't realized that they had actually made him. How cool is that? (In fact, if you purchased one and have the box, the horse in the outdoor picture on the back of the box is the original that I painted.) I think it's particularly neat that of all the elements, I ended up with the horse designated for fire. (Though technically the prototype would have been among the last horses I painted without "fire"!)

And now I have to share a truly embarassing story about him. Like I said, I painted him years and years ago. Long enough ago that my strongest memory of painting him was my oldest son, then really small, pointing to him on my workbench and saying "COW! Preeeettttty COW!" (How demoralizing...) I also remembered having to give the folks at Reeves my parents' address because they needed him painted over the holidays. But the truth is that while I remembered that my son thought he was a cow, and that I had done some of the work on him in Alabama, I had forgotten what color and pattern I had painted until he appeared this afternoon.

In fact, late last year my husband took me to Lebos to get riding boots for my birthday, and he saw a different Ethereal in a box on the shelf. He recognized the mold and asked, "Hey didn't you paint this one Christmas a few years ago?" It was a bay tobiano, and hey, I had done bay tobiano prototypes for Breyer before, so I said I thought it might be. Before I knew it, he was proudly telling everyone that his wife designed the horse. (God love him, he does this sort of thing.) Someone asked if I would sign theirs, and so I did, though I mentioned that I wasn't sure a signature might not devalue the horse to collectors. (Oh, if only I had known!) So someone out there has whichever of the Ethereals is bay tobiano, erroneously signed by me. Doh!

I used to think that I would never forget a horse, once I had painted it. I guess that doesn't work so well after twenty years and hundreds of horses. With "Fire", I had signed a non-disclosure agreement so I didn't even take a picture for my records. I think next time I do something like that, I'll at least write down a description so I can save myself any future gaffs.

I should add that they did a really good job duplicating the original. I was told to try to come up with something I thought could not be done on the production line, so considering that it's amazing what they did with the pattern. Factory-produced plastic horses sure have come a long way in the last decade or so.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A fine day for painting

After what has seemed like months of endless rain, today has been a picture-perfect spring day. This has always been my favorite season, perhaps because I have spent most of my life in the deep South. It's hard for me to imagine many places more beautiful that the South at the height of spring. Of course, we are just at the beginning of spring but the spice verbena bush that grows just outside my studio window is already blooming, and the breeze coming from the open window has been carrying the scent of its flowers all morning.

It's made a perfect setting to work on what is my favorite part of glazing - the detailing. I've become a passible airbrush artist over the years, if only out of necessity. But at heart I am a hand-painter, which is probably why I tend towards such fussy patterns. I've come to believe that most artists will gravitate towards whatever colors play to their strengths, and my hand work is much stronger than my airbrushing. I like the kind of patterning that I illustrated in the previous post, but I like this kind of work even more because I don't have to concentrate nearly so much on not touching things. This is the step where I can just do what I like best!

Part of that is because the fired underglaze is a good bit tougher than the raw underglaze. It's also because I can start sealing things under the gloss glaze. That's what I've done in this picture. The grayish-pink areas over his shoulders and hindquarters are a thin layer of clear glaze. The gloss that I use goes on salmon pink, dries a rather ugly strawberry pink, and then fires clear and glossy. But at this stage I'm not really adding a full layer of glaze, but rather adding just enough to give the finished areas of the underglaze some protection so I can more easily handle the horse.

I also use the glazed areas to tell me what has been checked and found ready for the final fire. This is important because this is the point where I will do the last check on the pattern. When removing underglaze, the blade will often leave a gray residue. This can make it hard, especially when working with a grayish horse, to be sure of your pattern edge. The marks fire away, making it easier to see any areas that were missed. I am also checking for tool-marks. It can be hard to see areas that look too much like the tool that made them until the underglaze has been fired. I want the coat to look roaned, not xacto-blade-scratched, so I have to fix those areas. After this is done, I coat the area with the gloss to protect the work - and tell me that I don't have to look there for errors. The more pink on the horse, the closer I am to getting him in for his final firing!

I tend to work like this on the hips and barrel first, because that is the most logical place to hold the horse. After that, areas that need painted details get addressed, starting with the simplest and working my way out to the ones needing the most hand work. Usually the more hand painting an area might need, the more important it is to have the rest of the horse sealed with glaze. I tend to stop thinking about how I'm holding the horse as I focus more on paint strokes.

So with this Finn, the last areas to receive gloss were his mane, which had a lot of strand-by-strand streaking and some edge clean-up, and his hooves. Almost all horses get their hooves done last because aside from one light undercoat sprayed in the beginning, and one final spray at the end, almost all the hoof shading is done by hand. They take the most time, and they often require the oddest hand-holds to reach. (Some day I'll do a post about how I do the hooves, but it will need to wait until I have someone in the studio with me to take the pictures.) Blue eyes are another area that tends to get left until the very end, though this guy doesn't have any of those.

Once I have a thin layer of glaze on the whole horse, he is ready for a few more layers of glaze and then his final firing. I don't usually post on the weekends, but Monday I should be back with a picture of him in his final glossy form.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Underglazes and color shifts

I thought it might be helpful to show how underglaze colors change during firing, using the previous picture of the sabino Finn.

The underglaze on this Finn is raw, which means it has not yet been fired. As I mentioned in the previous post, raw underglaze is very opaque so at this stage the horse will look very flat. Not only is raw underglaze extremely opaque, but the color is quite muted compared to what it will look like in its final form. Just how opaque the color is, and just how pale it is, varies with each color. For this particular horse, I've used a lot of a certain shade of gray that, while it fires to a rather medium shade, is among the most extreme in opacity and "frostiness". (I think of the colors that dry powdery white as being "frosty" because they look like the color has a layer of dusty frost over it.) All unfired colors are extremely misleading, but because this particular mix used a lot of that gray it will be more misleading than most.

Here is our Finn after that gray color was fired. Not only is the tone warmer and darker, but you can begin to see some of the shading on his hindquarters.

This shading will become even more noticable when the final (gloss) glaze is applied and fired. He's darker now that the paint is no longer raw, but the color will deepen even more when it interacts with the clear glaze.

I suspect that most ceramic artists, if they work with underglazes long enough, get to the point where they can automatically translate what they see in the raw, and in the fired (but unglazed) bisque, and know what they are getting as a final color. Or perhaps I should say, they come to know what their possible range might be. One of the added challenges with ceramic underglazing is that it can be said that you suggest what colors you might like, but in the end the kiln decides the exact shade!